Don’t risk the dog getting excited and knocking plastic pieces on the floor - play these amazing board games inside your iOS device instead.
Agricola is light on conflict (although not devoid of it) and heavy on strategy. It’s a board game about farming. Wake up at the back, because - despite that unthrilling description - Agricola is a bulletproof modern classic: a finely tuned killer of a game that will drag you in and never let go.
It’s a worker placement: each member of your family gets to perform one action each turn, whether that is collecting a resource (wood, stone, livestock), building or renovating a room, putting up fences, ploughing or sowing the fields or (look away, grandma) ‘family growth’. But the various actions can each be performed only once per turn - hence the worry that an opponent will jump in ahead of you and grab whatever you need.
You can’t die, but you’ll be amazed by how much it hurts if you fail to collect enough food for your family on one of the designated feeding phases, and shamefacedly pick up one or more point-docking begging cards. And getting your farm running smoothly, with the crops ripening and animated baby animals appearing at the proper time, is hugely satisfying.
It often feels like games end too soon: just one more turn, you think, because you’re starting to get the hang of everything. That’s probably a good sign.
£6.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Agricola
Simultaneously accessible enough for beginners and deep enough that it’s still being played competitively 15 years after its release, Carcassonne has perhaps the broadest appeal of any board game available today.
The game involves using tiles to build a map. Each turn, a player draws a tile - which is illustrated with parts of a city, abbeys, sections of road and green fields - and places it next to a compatible tile.
Each player has seven meeples, which are game pieces you can use to ‘claim’ a geographical feature that your tile forms a part of, and which hasn’t been claimed by any other player; you’ll then amass victory points based on how big that feature becomes.
This might sound pedestrian (although it really isn’t), but the game can be even more fun with some backstabbing. Rather than focusing on your own point acquisition strategy, it can be productive to deliberately arrange awkward configurations of tiles around your opponent’s features.
Fortunately, the iOS take is great, with clear graphics, user-friendly multiplayer, and some decent AI that covers a range of difficulty levels for solo players.
£9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Carcassonne
Graphically, this is a faithful rendition of Klaus Teuber’s superb and deservedly idolised tile-based island conquest game. Having the iPad handle those tiresome banking duties and victory point calculations makes things far more fast-paced than the board game, and you can view statistical tables at the end of the bout.
The computer players can be absolute swines - they’ll merrily gang up on you in a way that most human players would consider beyond the pale - but hardcore gamers may even consider this a plus. And the original game is such a work of genius that this couldn’t help being great fun, even if it’s not the perfect iOS port.
Pandemic: The Board Game
Pandemic is a vastly popular co-operative board game in which up to four friends work together to defeat four diseases sweeping the globe. Each turn you’ll travel from city to city, treat the sick and research cures, hoping that the random new infections don’t strike in that worst possible place and snowball into multiple outbreaks (spoiler: they always do). It’s unbelievably tense, and winning feels amazing. And everyone is involved, since you’re each allocated a role with special powers that will prove crucial in particular situations.
The iOS version works far better as a solo experience, but it still induces a massive (but pleasurable) panic at its key moments. And the euphoria of victory is also sweet. That said, take heed - even on the easy difficulty level, this virtual take seems tougher than the cardboard version.
£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Pandemic: The Board Game
Really Bad Chess
Chess is amazing but can intimidate newcomers and be analysed to death by veterans. You can get around this by randomising the starting position of non-pawn pieces, but Really Bad Chess goes much further, in randomising pretty much everything, bar the king. Pawns might start on the back row, or you might luck out and get seven queens while your opponent looks on in horror, armed with a single rook.
It’s curious and immediate, but also more mentally demanding than traditional chess. You lose the security blanket of E2 to E4, D2 to D4, knight to F3, wake me up when something interesting happens. Everything is new - and potentially dangerous - from the very start.
That said, there is an attempt at balance - albeit a strange one. Initially, you have a distinct advantage, but win often and the set-ups favour you less and less. The AI never gets smarter - it just gets a better starting point. It’s a clever idea, and makes for a chess game that’s a lot of fun.
£free | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Really Bad Chess
Ticket To Ride
One for the trainspotters, you might think, although experience suggests that this simple but engrossing game will appeal to everyone.
You collect coloured cards, which you then use to build railway infrastructure across the map, attempting to connect up the cities named in your (randomly allocated) objectives. Tactically we believe it’s relatively straightforward, but the competition for critical stretches can get fierce. And in the end there’s not much in life more satisfying than building a railway.
The default map covers the US, and there are European - and other - expansions available as IAP.
£8.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Ticket to Ride